A little laziness can be good for the garden

Erin Schanen

The best thing I ever did for my garden was learn to be lazy.

One summer, several years ago, the garden got away from me. I just didn’t have the time to keep up with things. That led to a major weed problem, but it was worth it because it became a turning point in my garden.

That one year of deferred maintenance started the process of balancing my garden’s ecosystem. When I was all up in my garden’s business, examining plants with the kind of attention usually reserved for researchers with microscopes, I would spot a problem and immediately go about solving it.

On its face, such an approach is not bad. If you get ahead of the problem it can’t turn into a major issue. But you also eliminate the option for the garden to solve the problem. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of beneficial insects in a garden, but the fact is, you can’t have “good” bugs without “bad” bugs.

Many of the beneficial insects in our gardens won’t show up without a bad actor around to target. Aphids literally suck the life out of plants but are a common food source for many insects including ladybugs, damsel flies, lacewings and more. Let the aphids hang out for awhile and this army of aphid specialists will show up and take care of the problem.

And with good bugs comes the more obvious actors. Fat toads inhabit every corner of my garden and the occasional tree frog shows up perched on a flower or stuck to a window. Birds, too, benefit from the diverse insect population in my yard.

Of course none of this would be possible if I reached for chemical insecticides every time a bug showed up. Some insecticides work very well — too well. Carbaryl, such as is found in the often recommended brand Sevin, kills up to 500 species of insects, including bees and butterflies.

Leaving your garden to fend off insect attacks by itself is not a strategy I recommend. The year of the lazy gardener balanced everything out but there was a lot of collateral damage.

These days I keep a closer eye on things. Truly bad actors — Japanese beetles, cabbage worms, sawfly larvae and tomato hornworms, to name a few — are quickly dispatched by hand. If that fails, I look to less harmful pesticides like insecticidal soap, Bacillus thuringiensis (thankfully commonly called BT), spinosad or diatomaceous earth, depending on the pest. It’s crucially important to follow the label instructions and apply only when pollinators aren’t present.

Embrace your inner lazy gardener. There’s a good chance your garden will be better for it.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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